Reaching Across the World


July, 2017


David Byrd, CEO of the YMCA of Greater Kansas City and Board Member for the US Mission Network, has always been a doer.

You would be hard pressed to find a YMCA executive who is involved in more regional and national programs. He has been a true asset to many efforts sponsored by Y-USA and certainly our own effort.

But this week he’s focused on something a bit more international. David has flown halfway across the world to participate in the opening of the brand new Ramallah YMCA, a branch of the East Jerusalem YMCA. The 16 hour trip comes at the completion of a 10 year experience that has seen David foster a relationship with the leadership of the East Jerusalem YMCA.

The East Jerusalem YMCA was established in 1949 in a tent in Aqabat Jaber Refugee Camp near Jericho. Today, the East Jerusalem YMCA operates a variety of diversified programs and activities that are consistent with its vision of Holistic Youth Development and related directly to the needs of Palestinian society. The YMCA believes that faithfulness to its Christian mission, which embodies openness to all religions in a spirit of love and service, will bring about the transformation of society.

This Y works with all sectors of Palestinian society without discrimination. They are committed to the World Council of YMCA’s Challenge 21, a document formulated to aid YMCAs throughout the world to renew an understanding of their mission in the new millennium.

Location, Location, Location
The main branch of the East Jerusalem YMCA commands an excellent location on the road which leads from the Damascus Gate to the airport. In the pre-partition days, travelers could follow this road all the way to Damascus as the Apostle Paul did in his time. It is within walking distance of the Old City and close to the new one springing up near it.

Despite the limited building site space, a four-story building serves the many programs of this international Y. An auditorium with a seating capacity of 375 is named for Mr. Harper Sibley of Rochester, New York, a great American Christian layman who was closely associated with the International YMCA. This brought him into deep understanding of the problems of the dispossessed people of many lands, including Palestine. He and his wife visited the Middle East on several occasions to see firsthand the work of YMCA in this troubled part of the world. The auditorium occupies a large part of the second and third floors of the YMCA and has been a great asset to both the YMCA and the city of Jerusalem, which had a noticeable lack of public halls for concerts, lectures, plays and receptions for many years.

Adjoining the auditorium is a chapel, the gift of the Evangelical and Reformed Church of the USA. It is used for private meditation and for groups which wish to meet for worship. A large window in this chapel faces the Mount of Olives with its sacred associations and its inspiring view. The chapel is designed for worship, providing the right atmosphere for celebration and meditation.

Jerusalem Protestant Fellowship
One group which uses the chapel regularly is the Jerusalem Protestant Fellowship who “provide a simple worship service for Protestant Christians away from home”. The first service was held on Jan. 3, 1960, under the direction of a committee composed of interested people who were then residing or visiting in Jerusalem. Since then, an effort has been made to consistently utilize the talents of ministers who are visiting in Jerusalem and who are willing to share in this unique worship experience. More than forty ministers and hundreds of tourists share in this worship service each year. In the coffee hour which follows the service, visitors get a more intimate picture of the outreach of the Church in its service programs to the Palestinian community.

Dedication of the New Ramallah YMCA—Saturday, July 15, 2017
In an email we received for David from Israel he said, “The Ramallah Y, a center of the East Jerusalem association, has been in the development, fund raising and building phase for 10 years. The 20 acres of land was given by Yasser Arafat prior to his death. He saw the value of having a Y and the services to the people many years ago, serving in such a troubled part of the world.

“Y-USA, specifically Tom Valentine, has been engaged from the beginning, and I personally have been involved for a few years. Earlier this year, the Kansas City C Y team hosted their new director for two weeks, teaching him how to successfully open a new Y. This week we are working with staff and volunteers as we ready to cut the ribbon Saturday on the first phase of their 200,000+ square foot building.

“It has been an honor and privilege to advance our Y Mission in such a very difficult part of the world, Ramallah will be a better community for the Y in the community.”

David Byrd has been following the work of the East Jerusalem YMCA for well over a decade. This week, as he celebrates the opening of their new facility with the Y leaders in Jerusalem, is the culmination of his ongoing interest in seeing the Y serve the Palestinians in the area. He is truly a man on the go … an inspiration to us all of what it means to be a YMCA leader.